The Hit Songs Deconstructed Wire

Penn's Pick: Hall & Oates Kiss On My List



Artist: Hall & Oates
Song/Album: Kiss On My List / Voices
Writers: Janna Allen, Daryl Hall
Year Released: 1981
Genre/Sub Genre: Pop

Why it’s a “Penn’s Pick”:

Few artists can rival Hall & Oates in the “Pop perfection” department. Not only did their masterful technique of fusing multiple sub-genres within a single song enable them to stand out in relation to everyone else (usually a combination of Straight-Up Pop, Rock, R&B/Soul and even some Progressive elements), but their ability to compose ultra-infectious, memorable melodies and communicate them in an ultra-evocative, clever manner helped to turn their hits into timeless classics.

Some of their best known hits include Private Eyes, Maneater, Rich Girl, I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), and Out Of Touch, all of which landed at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

One of their most infectious and memorable, however, is Kiss On My List. This song possesses all of the “hit qualities” that they’re know for, and if you’re an aspiring writer or producer, this is certainly one of the songs that you should be analyzing for best practices.

Read the full Kiss On My List Penn’s Pick report to find out what compositional characteristics helped launch the song to the top of the charts!

This Penn’s Pick clip features their performance on the Don Lane Show in 1981.

Compositional Highlights:

The “Because Your Kiss” Vocal

This is the element that helped put the chorus, and the song as a whole for that matter, over the top.

Imagine for a second that Hall was singing the entire chorus solo, without the additional background “because your kiss” vocal. Would it still be infectious, engaging and memorable? Absolutely. But would it have that “magic quality” that helped to turn it into a timeless classic? No.

IT’s these elements within a song which help achieve that most coveted want, LONGEVITY!

Daryl Hall’s Lead Vocal

This guy can sing with the best of them. Combine his range and the evocative nature of his delivery with the exceptionally infectious vocal melody and you wind up with the complete package.

The “La, La, La” Pre-Chorus

Not only is the pre-chorus just as infectious, engaging and memorable as other sections within the song, but it also serves to increase the tension and anticipation leading into the chorus as well.

But one additional core quality that you need to take note of is the “color adder” aspect of the Oates “la, la, la” background vocal. Just as was the case with the “because your kiss” element within the chorus, here the “la, la, la” vocal helps to put the section, and the song, over the top.

Total Section Breakdown

If you were ever wondering if the compositional breakdown of a hit today was any different than it was back in the 70’s or 80’s, it’s not.

As you can see in the graph below, each section within Kiss On My List comprises virtually the same amount of time within the song as the average for all the 25 songs that landed in the Billboard Pop songs top 10 during Q2-2013.

The key difference here is that we’re subbing the bridge for a guitar solo.

Section Length

Notice within the graph below that even though individual sections are quite lengthy (i.e. 0:32 verse, 0:32 solo, 0:31 chorus), each are “segmented” into 2 stanzas, enabling a new section enters into the mix around once every ~0:16.

By “chunking” longer segments into shorter ones, this enables sections to be absorbed in an easier manner and as a result accentuate the engagement and memorabilty factor for the listener.

The Intro

Take note of the “multi-faceted” intro. Even though it’s lengthier than the average intro of today’s Pop hits (which average around 0:14), it’s still ultra engaging and effective.

First, it kicks off with that 0:03 “Casio” drum machine intro, which acts as a unique identifier for the song. The second you hear it, you know exactly what song it is.

Second, it’s followed by the instrumental chorus theme for the duration of the section which both gives you a taste of things to come as well as completely hooking you into the song until the verse takes over.